Minimalism Mini-series 2.

Setting goals with minimalism, and thinking about how compatible this way of life is with sustainability

Goals

When starting your minimalism journey, it’s important to have some goals in mind so that you know what you’re aiming to achieve. Is it to have 50 items and be an extreme minimalist with the freedom to travel wherever you want with everything you own in a small backpack? Or is it to have a nice tidy, clean open space in your house that brings a level of calm when you return home from work?

Goals will help with the decluttering process, even though it takes time, a slight toll on your emotions depending on your attachment to your things and quite a lot of determination, having goals aids your process and sometimes guides you in the right direction. 

I have some goals which might be considered extreme to some people, but if I really need things, there is always an opportunity to acquire them again. 

I don’t really have a specific number of items that I want to own in mind, but one of my goals is to always have a tidy house. Being such a messy youngster, it still is sometimes a challenge to keep on top of the house cleaning and organising, but the fewer things I own, the easier it will be. 

I also want to be able to keep all of my clothing in my side of the wardrobe, rather than having an extra two draws in the dresser as well. At the moment, I still need to go through my clothes and see what I wear regularly, if there’s anything I can sell or donate, or anything that is completely worn out. I wouldn’t say I have an over-abundance of clothing as I have done quite a few declutters, but I have a number of different clothing categories that I segregate into different areas. For instance, I have the classic underwear draw, which is now decluttered enough that it is just the one draw. I don’t even know how I ended up owning so much underwear before but it would never fit into the spaces I envisioned it in. Now I just have the one draw and it makes it so much easier to not have to sift through a number of different places just to start getting dressed. I then have a draw for workout clothes and swimwear, so basically a sports draw. I haven’t gone and done a proper workout at a gym since the week before the first lockdown started as I can no longer afford my gym membership, but if I can convince myself, I would maybe use these clothes for home workouts whenever I decide to start those. Then I have a bag dedicated to my safari clothing; sounds weird keeping clothes in a bag, it’s not like I’m going anywhere right now, but I know exactly where these clothes are the next time I need them and it saves me a bit of space in my wardrobe.

All I use for my showers now.

Other goals include reducing my toiletries a lot and once used up, switching to more environmentally friendly and sustainable products. I’m doing quite well with this. I used to obsessively buy creams and cleansers and lip balms and all sorts, but not being a girly-girl, or particularly caring what I look like, I never used these products regularly and they all just sat there collecting dust. I am now on my last two face moisturisers, and I now have no spare body washes or shampoo bottles, I have switched the body wash and shampoo over to bars. The worst thing with toiletries is when clearing them out, if you find expired ones, you have to throw them away because they can’t be given to someone else. The other problem with unused toiletries is that if they have been opened, even just to smell them or use them once, they can’t be donated to any charities that excepts these. The good thing is, just a couple of months ago, Boots announced that they have placed some recycling areas in 50 of their stores, so you can take old products to these stations, even if they weren’t purchased from Boots, saving them from going to landfill. 

The greatly reduced toiletries shelf
Greatly reduced things in the cupboard. I now only take up the one shelf with a couple of creams.

One of my other goals is to have an under-control med kit; I used to buy a lot of first aid/medical products because I have this habit of getting ill or injuring myself on a semi-regular basis. The problem was, I would forget I already had something and then go and buy more of it such as paracetamol, neurofen, lemsip pills, creams and ointments. This then led to a bunch of things going out of date because by the time I found them, they were years old. Please remember that if you clear out medicines, creams or anything you might find as a medical use item in a pharmacy, you must take it to your pharmacy to be disposed of as these items shouldn’t be sent to landfill as they may enter the environment, get eaten by animals or enter the waterways. I now have a greatly reduced medical kit and I always check it before buying anything just in case I already have the product I’m thinking of. 

These are the only other toiletry items I use regularly. I have some others which I’m currently trying to work through as best as I can.

A very big, and slightly unrealistic goal at the moment is to live out of just one bag. This bag would include all my clothes, toiletries, meds and entertainment, maybe leaving one or two small boxes of things at my parents’ house that I might want at some point in the future. The aim of this would then be to travel the world, easily, comfortably and sufficiently. This would take a lot of decluttering, and a lot of convincing myself that I don’t need a lot of things that I’m still hanging on to. I can see myself doing this one day, but I don’t think right now is the time for me to do this. I asked myself and my boyfriend the question “what would you do if you won the euro millions lottery and ended up with a ridiculous amount of money?” My answer: I would sell and donate everything that doesn’t fit into one bag, pack the rest of my stuff up into one bag and travel the world forever, staying in volunteer houses at different wildlife experiences and really live my life without stress or worry of having to be a part of the real world anymore. What others might say: I would buy a huge house, buy a fancy car, buy designer clothes and shoes and bag, buy expensive jewellery, eat out at fancy restaurants etc. 

My question to you, what would you do if you won the lottery? Would it be about buying lots of fancy stuff, or would you go and have some amazing experiences and come back with adventurous stories to tell. Just remember, it’s your experiences that go to your grave with you, not your stuff. I have done some pretty good thinking about this question, and if you won even 10 million pounds, you could probably work at volunteer places and have experiences without ever having to have a real job again, obviously budgeting properly. Or you could buy a bunch of fancy stuff where the money would eventually run out. I know which I’d rather do, plus going and volunteering at wildlife rescue centres, or wildlife research projects, means your putting your time and money towards important issues.

Compatibility of minimalism with sustainability 

These two topics are not mutually exclusive, just because you’re a minimalist does not mean you are automatically part of the sustainable living society, but minimalism can definitely help you get there. The fact that minimalism alters your consumer habits helps you to cut down on your environmental impact, but whilst you are buying less, you can also start to be more mindful and intentional about your purchases. There are so many different sustainable shops and brands that sell sustainable toiletries, kitchenware, reusable water bottles etc. One of the things to really concentrate your efforts on though is where you buy your clothes from. The fashion industry, particularly the fast-fashion industry which is the second highest polluting industry in the world, just after fossil fuels. I hardly ever buy new clothes, keeping up with fashion trends isn’t the most important issue in my life, and I think that not keeping up with fashion trends is one of the biggest things that keeps my clothing purchases low. In the last 3 years, I have probably only bought maybe 10 new items of clothing, it might be less, it might be a couple items more, but I’m not buying new clothes every week or every month. If you already have hundreds of items of clothing, why do you need to buy more? I asked the same question in my blog about a minimalist trip to Cape Town, but do these people not know about doing laundry? And the fact that once you do laundry, you can wear those clothes again? 

So yes, I think we can agree that minimalism and sustainability are compatible, but it does take some intention and effort to make sure you see it through. One of the best ways to sustainably buy clothes is to buy second hand. The clothes are already made and exist, therefore, no extra process (other than postage) is going into you owning them. There are so many places to pick up second-hand items, such as charity shops, Ebay, this app called Vinted and probably many more. The next time I’m looking for some khaki green cargo trousers, I’m going to start searching for second hand because I’m sure the perfect ones I’m looking for will be out there somewhere. 

Minimalism Mini-series 1.

Today is the day that I am finally addressing the “mini” in my blog name. Yes, I would consider myself a minimalist, although I haven’t reached my decluttering goals yet, I have adopted the mindset of a minimalist and I’m adjusting the way I live to fit into this category. 

I began my journey into minimalism in January 2017, a time when I was suffering from a huge amount of anxiety and distress after leaving university because I couldn’t cope with it. I had nothing else to do in the day as I wasn’t fit to work at the time either and so after watching hundreds and hundreds of YouTube videos, I finally started my own journey to a life with less. 

This is the majority of my clothes with just a couple of other draws containing workout clothes and PJs.

Background

A little background to how different I am now from my younger self, a very much non-minimalist. My family are the type of people who like to hold on to things for sentiment. Well, my mum’s and dad’s things, my mum was constantly clearing out mine and my brother’s things but hasn’t ever really touched the masses of clutter of theirs. My dad is especially bad for holding onto things and even getting new things that he doesn’t need; the second hand shop at the tip is an exceptionally dangerous place for my dad to go on his own. 

Even with the decluttering efforts of my mum, my room constantly looked like a bomb had gone off, or I was living at a rubbish dump. There would be numerous toys and items of stationary all over the floor of my bedroom. My room wasn’t tiny, but it also wasn’t huge, and it was very difficult to move around it. When I was very young, maybe until the age of 10, my parents basically had no money and so I lived in second-hand clothes, most of which were boys’ clothes and that’s probably where my “style” if you can call it that, comes from. However, as soon as mum announced that I was allowed to start getting brand new clothes of my own, I went absolutely wild with the Next catalogue, asking for huge amounts of clothes that I probably never even wore because they were way too girly for me. It was at this point that it all started to pile up in draws and cupboards and the infamous chair where you chuck things that aren’t dirty enough to go in the wash, but you don’t want to wear it again just yet. I also collected masses of toys and things at this point, my two favourite collections being Sylvanian Families and Breyer horses.

One of my problems with having so much stuff was that I was constantly reorganising my room, but never getting rid of anything. These reorganising phases happened every few months because, excuse my language, crap just kept getting everywhere. I would tidy up the floor and shove it all into the already overflowing draws of my exhausted desk, put it in plastic bins, try and fold my clothes to find out that most of them didn’t fit in the furniture so then they would end up in bin bags and shoved in the loft. 

Anyway, turns out that the clothes stopped being decluttered at about the age of 12 or 13 as that’s approximately when I stopped growing. I only found out about the problem when I went home maybe at Easter after I started my decluttering journey and filled 6 Bin Bags with clothes I didn’t wear anymore! These were just the clothes that hadn’t been deemed good enough to take with me when I moved to Wales for uni, or I had simply forgotten about their existence because I only wear about 4 different outfits consistently. I had another closet and chest of drawers full in my own house which was majorly reduced. 

Why I’m working towards being a minimalist

So although I call myself a minimalist, I don’t think I’m quite done with reducing the amount of stuff I have, but I’m definitely on my way there and doing a lot better at it than a lot of my generation. There are some things that strongly influence my decisions on being and becoming a minimalist that might influence you to make some changes. 

One of the biggest things that influenced me to make a change that came up again and again when watching YouTube videos was the hugely reduced time it takes to clean your house. Not having to move things out of the way constantly to clean and not having to find a space for everything all the time because it all has a place makes it so much easier when cleaning. I used to just leave things where they were rather than putting them away, but now that there is space to put everything, it is so much easier just to put it back where it belongs, making it easier to keep tidy in the long run. 

Having less things also meant having more space. The last two places I’ve lived with my boyfriend haven’t been particularly large. Our first place together was a two bedroom flat in South Wales, where the rooms were also quite small. After the first huge clear out, it felt like we’d added another room to the house, the floors had never been clearer before that. I still had a long way to go but the first clear out made a massive difference to how big that flat felt. We now live in a two bedroom terraced house in Chester. It’s not a particularly big house due to the fact that Chester is an expensive place to live and so we probably live in a house that’s a similar size to the flat, just split into two levels. I’ve had another declutter but at the moment I’m waiting for the charity shops to be open so I can donate a few bags of things. 

Another reason for becoming minimalist is that it is making me more intentional when it comes to purchasing things and bringing them into my home which is helping to reduce my impact on the environment. I now only bring in things that I know I’m going to use, or that I absolutely need, such as plastic free bathroom items etc. Being more intentional and thoughtful with what you bring into your home can really help reduce the amount of unnecessary waste you produce. 

With buying less, comes the benefit of spending less. I don’t have a huge spending budget anyways, especially now because of the pandemic, but even before then it was tough. My boyfriend and I now budget our monthly spending on an Excel spreadsheet and it really does help to see where your money is going. Our priority spending is obviously rent, bills and food, but also care for our two cats. After that, we have to be particularly careful about what we spend as we don’t really have the money to just shop anywhere at any time. We hardly eat out anymore, something that you don’t realise how much you’re spending on until you see it written down. Quite a shock to see takeaway spending when you have all that lovely food you’ve already bought at the shops. Also, when you have takeout or eat out all the time, is it really a treat anymore or have you become reliant on it? We treat ourselves to maybe one or two takeouts a month, otherwise we cook everything else. It is a challenge to make all our meals, especially when my boyfriend works until 9pm, but I can’t eat late because it makes me sick so a lot of meal planning comes into it and it’s a lot of effort but it saves us a huge amount of money at the end of the day. Just as a little insight, our weekly food shop is usually between £50-£60, and only goes above that if I need lots of cleaning supplies. Our average Mcdonalds takeout is about £15, a huge amount to spend on one meal, when if you think about it, it’s probably about £3-£5 per meal out of our food shopping. 

It sounds strange but having less stuff can greatly reduce stress and anxiety. I’m not sure of the science behind it, perhaps it’s to do with less time having to tidy up, or knowing exactly where everything is, but my anxiety reduced by almost half after my first big declutter. It’s now become habit that if I am feeling quite stressed and anxious, I’ll start to look at my things to see if there’s anything I can declutter. My boyfriend has made it very clear, and I respect his choice, that I’m not allowed to touch his stuff or pressure him into decluttering. This is actually very important to remember, you can’t force someone to be the same as you, you have to worry about your own stuff and let everyone else do their own thing. They may see the benefits of minimalism once they see you thriving from your decluttering journey and ask for a bit of guidance on how to get started, but you absolutely cannot force someone into it. 

A very simple benefit that I’ve mentioned a number of times by now, but I know exactly where everything is. Having less stuff means you know where the important things are, such as finding your phone, or your wallet, or even that top you like to wear. If you’re not sifting through hundreds of items of clothing that you don’t wear, it’s so much easier to find the 6-9 tops that you do wear and enjoy wearing. 

Maybe you’ve heard of it, maybe you haven’t, but there is a thing called Decision Fatigue. You can actually become tired of making choices throughout your day depending on how many you’ve had to make at the start. One of the biggest choices people make is deciding what to wear every day. On average British and American girls will have anywhere over 200+ items of clothing at any one time in their lives, that’s average so there will be girls with a lot more than that, and guys might too. This means you might spend half an hour to an hour trying to decide what you want to wear, taking up a lot of important decision-making power from later in your day, such as which tasks need to be completed at work etc. I haven’t done an item count for a while but it’s probably in the region of 60-70, maybe a little more and I feel like I might need to go through my wardrobe again at some point. I know exactly which clothes I love to wear; it takes me less than 5 minutes to pick my clothes out, I’m happy and comfortable and that’s me ready for the day. 

Minimalist trip to Cape Town

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to travel somewhere afar with just one bag? Ever considered the benefits of travelling this way? Or have you ever just questioned how to make it possible? Well after having done it myself, I’m about to give you some insight to what travelling like a minimalist is like. 

In November 2019, I booked a rather spontaneous, last minute trip to visit my best friend in Cape Town, South Africa. I kept in mind the fact that I wasn’t going to the bush this time, and I would be in a very well stocked house in a city. These thoughts provoked my choice to try travelling as a true, one bag traveller, or as other people call them, minimalists. I perhaps pushed the boundaries a little bit and I may be considered an extreme minimalist for doing this, but all I had on me was a 25-litre backpack. 

The backpack I used was the Tom Bihn Synapse 25

Before I dive into the nitty-gritty packing list, at this point we can already discuss one huge benefit of travelling with one bag, or with cabin baggage only, and that is how much money it saves you on your flights. Did you know that airlines will charge £30 or more per flight for you to take hold luggage? At least British Airways does, and by only travelling with my one bag, over four flights (Manchester to London, London to Cape Town and back again), I saved £120 on my tickets. 

You might feel uncomfortable with the thought of not taking very much, maybe thinking you won’t be prepared enough, not have everything you need etc, but there is a way to pack to make sure your basic needs and comforts are easily met. You may choose to travel with a slightly bigger bag than I did on this trip, I think the largest backpack style bag allowed in the cabin is about 40 litres, but you should always check this on your chosen airline’s website. The first step to knowing how much you need is knowing how long you’re going for, and for this trip I would be there for 10 days. At this point you have to start being very realistic in your thinking, how often do you actually change your clothes, and did you know about this thing called laundry, making all your clothes reusable? For this trip, I knew it was going to be very hot when I got there, but I decided on taking only 3 outfits with me because of the fact I only change what I’m wearing every few days, and the fact that I can put my clothes in the wash. So, my outfits consisted of 3 tank tops and 3 shorts; I also needed something to sleep in, so I packed 2 sets of PJs with me. Just in case (not a phrase that minimalists tend to use, but I thought viable in this case) I also packed 2 workout outfits consisting of 2 pairs of cropped leggings and 2 workout tops for any situation of doing intense activities. We were planning to do a bit of hiking and although those plans didn’t come to light, I was ready to take on those sorts of activities. Then all I had left to pack was my underwear. I took 5 of everything in that category, I needed maybe 1 more set, but I got by and made it work. I also packed a bikini just for in the event we went swimming as she lives literally 5 mins from the beach and there are some other pretty nice swimming places around. 

To fit what sounds like quite a lot of clothing in a rather small bag, I made use of a packing cube that I had from previous trips. Packing cubes are a god send when trying to fit lots of stuff into small places as they will compress your clothes slightly. I also rolled all my clothes when putting them in the packing cube, and by doing this, it means you can see most of the items you have, as well as compacting them and making a little bit of extra space to fit in everything. 

When packing in a carry-on, the most important thing to think about is toiletries, this is because of the amount of liquid you’re allowed to pack in a carry-on bag. You can take up to a litre, which all has to be in 100ml bottles (Again please check this with your airline). Seeing as I was visiting a friend, I knew I could use some of her toiletries, so I didn’t need to take too much with me in this category. I took a few things such as a special suncream for my face as being a natural redhead I have to be particularly careful about sun exposure and things like that; but this time I didn’t need to pack shampoo, body wash or anything of that sort. I took a small, FDA approved, clear washbag from the same company as my backpack (Tom Bihn), as that was all I needed on this trip; there is however a way you can take everything you need without causing a problem at airport security. I am researching into it for future travel as and when my next opportunity arises (that is to say the pandemic and my bank account need to get their acts together), I want to travel with everything I need in 1 bag and also try and be as sustainable and eco-friendly as possible. With this in mind, you should consider using shampoo and soap bars. Depending on where you get them, these are usually made with natural ingredients, meaning no harsh chemicals or substances for your hair, skin, or the waterways, but also, they are now starting to be packaged in paper-based packaging, making it easy to recycle. To transport your soap bars, invest maybe £2-£3 in some soap tins which you can find on most eco-friendly websites. Soap and shampoo bars last as long, if not longer than regular shampoo bottles, so not only are you saving space in your bag and the environment, you will be very unlikely to run out if travelling for less than a month. Also being solid, the soap and shampoo bars won’t get flagged when going through the scanner at the airport. 

One other thing that is incredibly important when travelling is taking a small first aid bag/med kit with some things you might need. Typically blister plasters, normal plasters and paracetamol will do (maybe some wound wipes and rehydration sachets as well), but also make sure to take your prescription meds (whether taken regularly or not just for any instance where you might come a cropper and think “darn, I should have brought those meds”). To fit meds into my tiny little pouch, I take the trays of pills out of their box along with the instructions sheet and pack them in; the boxes take up a lot of space and as long as you thoroughly check what it is as it will say on the back of the foil tray, you really don’t need the box (just please put it in your recycling bin). 

With those three categories fulfilled, you are pretty much set to go anywhere at this point. You have your clothes, toiletries, and meds. So, no matter what happens, whether delayed, diverted, or whatever you are ready and raring to go with just a bag on your back. Imagine the stress you’re saving yourself when they make an announcement that your hold baggage didn’t make it to your connecting flight. Everyone else will be there panicking because their clothes and makeup are lost in an airport many hours away, but not you, you thought about what you ACTUALLY NEEDED, and have it all with you, so no worries there, you’re good to start enjoying yourself. 

The other things I included in my pack was a packable raincoat, travel guide and Afrikaans phrase book, a notebook, my phone, wallet, obviously passport, and also my reusable water bottle. A bit of a random collection of things but I have my reasons. We actually did have a very heavy downpour, albeit during the night, but I had my raincoat if I had needed it. My friend speaks Afrikaans, so I wanted to learn a bit whilst I was there, unfortunately we had too much fun to sit and do learning. 

The ease of travelling with just my one small backpack is undeniable, from moving through airports easily, and also being able to make my connecting flights closer together because I didn’t need anything to be transferred across was such a blessing in itself. It also meant not having crap everywhere in my friend’s room. When I go to stay at hers, I sleep on a mattress on her bedroom floor, having been there before two uni trips with so much baggage, we never had space to move around. This time, my backpack fit perfectly in a small space by her wardrobe and it was so much easier to make space to hang out. I basically kept everything in my bag when I didn’t need it. The only thing I wish I did have was a small day bag, something like a little 12 litre backpack from Mountain Warehouse or something, just to put the stuff I needed for the day in (suncream, wallet, phone, travel guide etc). 

Of course there are some downsides in travelling this way, maybe you constantly feel like you’re missing something if you’re used to taking a lot with you, or maybe you don’t quite know how to pack in a way to make it work for you. There are other things like if you lose that bag, that’s it, all your stuff is gone, but not having much to replace means it’s easier to start again. 

I would seriously urge people to try and travel with just 1 bag once in your life, just to experience the feeling of freedom and preparedness that it brings (at least that’s how I felt). The ease of getting through airports, the space you have at your travel destinations, the feeling of being able to go at pretty much the snap of your fingers because it takes less than maybe 10 minutes to pack a bag the size, maybe under half an hour for anything a bit bigger. 

I can’t wait to travel again as Cape Town is the last place I managed to go before the world turned into a shambles; I also can’t wait to pack just the one bag and go, maybe a slightly bigger bag next time with a few small adjustments to the packing list, but just the one bag. 

Next week I’ll be posting a minimalism mini series throughout the week, hopefully containing some handy tips on how to start, how and what goals to set and a few other topics within the minimalism realm. 

Adventures in Africa – Story 5

Adventure 5 was organised mostly by my university as it was a field work trip for one of my modules. I, however, arranged the first 5 days of my trip to go and see my best friend who lives in Cape Town, South Africa. The same friend’s house that I sadly had to leave before a previous university trip to Africa due to a rather difficult period of dealing with anxiety. 

The time I spent in Cape Town was incredibly fun, with trips to the beach just down the road, exploring part of the garden route, and also visiting a sort of wildlife rescue centre that specialised in rescuing lions from circuses etc. 

After my few days in Cape Town, I was off on a flight to Johannesburg to meet up with the rest of my group at the Holiday Inn. Once at the hotel, I started organising my things, so I was in the right clothes to start a very wild adventure in the very hot African summer. 

The actual trip was based at the Ecotraining Mashatu Camp in Botswana, just north of the South African border with the Limpopo river being the cut off between the two countries. At the camp, we were all sleeping in two-man canvas tents, which were incredibly hot due to the summer heat. Daily temperatures averaged around 30-35°C with the hottest day reaching 40°C. This trip was in mid to late March 2019 which is the very end of the summer before the southern hemisphere starts going into autumn. I much prefer the winter in South Africa where the days are still fairly warm at an average of 25°C with the nights being much cooler, making it easier to sleep. I didn’t have a choice as to the timing of this trip however, so I just had to put up with it. 

Being a severe sufferer of insomnia, I have to be in very specific conditions to sleep, one of which is a very important one, and that is actually being very cool. I averaged about 2 hours of sleep a night as the temperatures didn’t really drop until about 2:30am and we had to get up at 5am. How I was able to concentrate at all with that little amount of sleep I have no idea, but sometimes the excitement of being in Africa takes over and you just get on with it. 

Our daily schedule started at about 5am, where you would meet in the dining tent for a cup of coffee and a rusk, or in my case, just the rusk. We then started our first activity at about 6am, being either a bush walk or a game drive depending on the group you were in. This activity would last until about 9:30am, with breakfast starting at 10:00am. After breakfast, we would have a lecture given to us by one of our two lecturers, or one of the guides from Ecotraining. The lectures usually lasted an hour, maybe two hours at most. We then had time to fill in and update our field journals to make sure we had recorded everything from previous bush walks and game drives, including species records, animal tracks and tree identification, and anything else we had been taught. We could then just relax and wait until lunch and the afternoon activity, which was quite nice as it meant we had time for showers and washing our clothes etc. I learnt very quickly that you do not have a shower in the dark as your torch attracts a whole array of bugs which try and jump on you while you’re starkers in the shower, a very unpleasant experience if you ask me. 

Woodland Kingfisher, a resident member of the camp

Lunch was served at 3pm, giving us enough time to eat and get ready before the afternoon activity which started at 4pm. The afternoon activities were bush walks or game drives again, switched from what activity your group had done previously. The afternoon activities went until 7pm, or until it was starting to go dark with the bush walks. We then had dinner at 7:30 or 8pm and after that we were free to go to bed. 

The walks were absolutely exhausting in the heat, which was so intense in fact that even when sitting still in camp you would be sweaty and gross. It was incredibly important therefore that you were drinking enough water to stay hydrated as once you start down that road, it is very difficult to treat in the middle of nowhere especially when you will constantly be losing water due to the heat. One of my rules was to sip water throughout the day, as being raised with a mother in a medical profession I was taught that once you’re thirsty, you’re already on a dangerous path to becoming dehydrated. You shouldn’t allow yourself to ever need to gulp down water, especially as doing this could cause you to wash out your electrolytes which will also make you not feel particularly well. I carried a 2-litre camelback pouch in my backpack so that I could constantly take sips throughout all the activities. Another tip I would suggest is to carry some rehydration sachets with you, as you never know when you might get into trouble with this sort of thing and the closest hospital with similar standards to UK hospitals is 6 hours away in Johannesburg. (Please bear in mind that I’m not a medical professional but following these tips may help keep you safe). 

Some other useful things you may want to bring if you embark on a similar adventure are some gaiters. Gaiters cover the tops of your shoes and work very well at stopping a little beasty known as a devil thorn from slicing your feet up. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any gaiters with me, but I adapted the bottoms of my zip-off trousers with some spare shoelaces to do the exact same job. I would highly recommend this piece of kit as it will save you from a world of pain. Any safari store will usually have them and they cost maybe £10-£15. I have used thesafaristore.com to buy my gear for years of work and activities in the bush. 

Going back to the Packing for Safari blog post, the colour of your clothing is particularly important, especially when on a bush walk as you are trying to blend into your environment. The colours I generally wear in the bush are greens and browns, greys are also acceptable as long as they’re not too dark. You shouldn’t wear any bright or reflective colours or any very dark colours as these will make you stand out and an animal will definitely notice you. 

Footwear is another important consideration due to the terrain, distance, and thorns etc, that you may find on your bush walk. I wore a sturdy pair of Brasher walking boots, they have a very thick sole and upper part so my foot was completely protected from most nasty things that may injure my foot such as bugs, snakes, and acacia thorns. The only thing I was not protected from were those darn devil thorns. Another thing to note is to be very careful around camp. You may see the guides walking around in bare feet, but they are very knowledgeable and capable of dealing with the nasties you might find. For example, I went to the loo one night and a centipede walked right past the edge of my boot, something that you really don’t want to bite you as it can be very painful, and depending on the species, it could also be venomous. Summer is most definitely the worst season for bugs as they like to come out especially after the rains. We had a huge rainstorm one evening and then there were spiders, scorpions, and a range of other beasties pretty much everywhere. In the winter, you will hardly ever see insects and for me, that is another reason not to go in summer. 

The activities were exhausting but exhilarating at the same time with so many possibilities to see so many different animals. I had my first sighting of Brown Hyenas on this trip which was so special to see. We also saw leopards, lions, elephants, and so many bird species I can’t even list them all, but it was incredible. We also had a small spotted genet who very much fancied one of the trees in camp, an animal who I’ve never seen so close or so brave before. 

Overall, other than dealing with a few personal struggles, the trip was an experience of a lifetime. We got to experience a sleep out under the stars with only a sleeping bag as protection. Although it is something I have experienced before, seeing everyone else’s excitement of noticing just how big the night sky is was awesome. You never forget an experience like sleeping out in the wilds with no tent, toilet or other commodities, and I think it’s something that everyone should experience at least once in their life. 

The food was some of the best I’ve ever eaten, being served three hot meals a day, and everything was delicious. We were even served homemade cakes at every single lunch, a little treat when there’s no chance of popping to the shops for a chocolate bar which would melt instantly. Even though I ate as much as I possibly could, even with all the meat and carbs in the world, I still ended up losing ¾ of a stone from all the walking and sweating. 

I think next time I’m on a trip with a similar itinerary, along with the sheer wildness of it and not being near human civilisation, I would like to try and pack a bit more minimally. I took an absolutely huge duffel bag, I think 120L or something in capacity, a 40L backpack and a small padded bag for my camera. My goal would be to travel with just a 40L backpack that contained all of my clothes, toiletries, and anything else I thought I might need. I took a ridiculously large first aid kit, although having had as many medical emergencies as I have in my life, that was probably a good thing. I think just about every single student ended up having some kind of minor accident. Mine was probably the smallest accident, although I still have a mark. I slid of the side of the Land Rover and caught my leg on the metal step. I didn’t cut it but got a very large bruise with a solid line down the middle. After nearly a year and a half, I still have the solid line in my leg. At least it’s something to help me remember the trip, kind of like a free memento. 

When it comes to packing for trips like these, you definitely don’t need to bring as much as you think you do. I’ve been adapting my packing list for the last 6 years over all these various trips and I haven’t quite nailed it yet. In some upcoming blogs I will be delving into the world of minimalism, minimalist travel, and topics revolving around that. I have to say, the idea of travelling with just one bag becomes very appealing after having done it and seeing how easy it was compared with the amount of stuff I took on this trip. 

That sums up the Adventures in Africa series… For now! I hope you’ve enjoyed having a read of everything I got up to over the last few years and I can’t wait until we can all go adventuring around the world again to create more stories to tell.

Adventures in Africa – Story 4

In December 2016, I very sadly made the decision to leave university after struggling with a bunch of mental health issues which had an impact on my ability to complete one of the modules of my first year. In the summer before I left, June 2016, I was supposed to have gone on a month-long field trip to South Africa, somewhere I had been 3 times prior to this trip. However, my mental health took a serious turn and whilst at my friend’s house in Cape Town, I had to make the decision to come home because I was in no state to do the trip. 

After all this had blown over and I had got myself feeling somewhat better than I had, I decided I needed a challenge to really start to work on getting myself better. I had been watching hours upon hours of YouTube videos which is where I came across a photographer called Tobias Gelston who runs PhotorecTV. I found some videos of a past trip he had done with Mckay Photography Academy to Tanzania and felt that was the thing to aim towards. 

So, with a lot of discussions and research, I found out that Mckay Photography Academy were running their trip to Tanzania in March 2018, and I wanted to be on that trip. I booked the trip and paid my first deposit in January or February 2017 and that was initially how this trip was set up. 

You may have seen on Instagram that I later returned to uni in September 2017, which I did and in complete shock I found out I was suddenly going to Iceland two weeks after I had decided to go back. Well, that trip went better than I thought it would after a bit of a rocky start on the first night. But going back to uni meant I had to work incredibly hard to get all my work done before the trip to Tanzania in March as I would be going away two weeks before the Easter holidays were meant to start. 

I managed to get a lot of my work done, with maybe one or two assignments left to do when I returned, but I was absolutely thrilled that I was going to the Serengeti while all my new classmates had to be in classrooms working. 

Due to the fact I was going to have to stay in Amsterdam for a night and I was only 21 at the time, my mum came with me on the short leg to Amsterdam to make sure I got my flight the next morning okay. I booked all of my flights with KLM as they were the most direct airline to Tanzania and also one of the cheapest. 

I flew from Southampton airport to Amsterdam the night before the big flight with mum so that we could stay in a nearby airport hotel. The flight was only maybe an hour long but taxiing into the terminal seemed to take longer than necessary due to the way the runways at Amsterdam is laid out. The next morning, I believe I had to get up at some ridiculous hour like 5am to leave the hotel at about 6am. Once at the airport, I met a few of the other guests on the trip. I was the youngest by at least 15 years, however, being the baby meant that I had no responsibilities held against me other than making sure I was where I needed to be when I needed to be there. 

The flight from Amsterdam to Tanzania was a day flight, particularly odd for me considering all previous flights to that end of the world were always night flights. I think the flight was only about 8 hours long, however it was pitch black when I left Amsterdam and pitch black when I landed. The airport I flew into was Tanzania Kilimanjaro Airport, a very small, and very badly organised place, but we all got there in the end with a bit of a kerfuffle about visas and landing cards etc. 

We were then driven in our Land Rovers for about an hour and a half to a hotel in the nearby town Arusha. The next morning, the proper adventure finally began. 

Vervet Monkey Baby in Lake Manyara National Park

The first place we visited was Lake Manyara National Park, this was a beautiful area that was quite boggy and marshy compared to everywhere else I ended up. There were quite a few animals, from elephants, to giraffes, I think also hippos, and a whole lot of bird life. It was here that I had my first experience of seeing great crowned cranes in the wild. We only spent a day in this park as we had to move on to places much further afield.

Elephant in Lake Manyara National Park

We then went to the hotel again to prepare for a long day of transferring to the next part of the trip. The next day we had to pack up everything ready to drive to the Serengeti. On our way to the Serengeti, we stopped at a very famous historic site called Olduvai Gorge. This is where it is believed we originated from, or at least very close to that area, as 2 million year old remains of our closest ancestral relative the hominids have been excavated from the gorge.  After we had finished our lunch whilst staring out at the gorge and having a look around the small museum, we were headed into the Serengeti National Park. I have never been so excited to be in a car in my life! I was on this trip because I had dreamed of being able to go to this place that I have seen so many times, but only on a screen in my living room. 

Olduvai Gorge, our ancestral plains.

When you see it for yourself, you will understand why it is called Serengeti (meaning “endless plain” in Swahili). Everywhere you look is just wide-open space with an unknown number of animals occupying it, little black dots everywhere are all wildebeest. I was staying in the South of the Serengeti as this is where the animals were on their annual migration route at that time of year. We stayed in the Serengeti for 3 nights in luxury 5-Star tents, which included en-suite bathrooms with a bucket shower, a sink with a jug of water for hand washing, and a porta-potti style toilet. For the middle of the Serengeti, this was like glamping rather than camping with a full proper single bed and lovely warm covers. The camp is completely unfenced to the wildlife however, so when putting the light on to visit the loo in the night, you may disturb a hyena taking a sniff around the outside of your tent. After three days of immense sightings in the Serengeti, including hundreds of thousands of wildebeest and their babies, we went on to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. 

One of the many hyenas of the Serengeti.

Getting to the Ngorongoro was a day filled with a bit too much excitement if you ask me. Tanzania was experiencing the rainy season during the time I was there and so the three rivers that crossed the road to exit the park became quite treacherous and we ended up being stopped for a rather long time waiting for the water levels to go down slightly before taking a risk and crossing. The water was so high it came in under the doors of the Land Rover, so we had to make sure that all of our bags were off the floor. After crossing the third river, one of the Land Rovers suddenly started producing some white smoke, not a particularly good sign when you are a good day long drive away from the nearest town that might have a mechanic. The guides tried their best to fix it by putting lots of bottled water into the radiator to try and cool it down, but after a second attempt to get up the very steep climb, the Land Rover sputtered to a stop and we suddenly found out that the radiator pipe had practically snapped in two. 

Elephant in Ngorongoro Conservation Area. (Definitely a boy).

The crater edge of the Ngorongoro is over 9000m high, this is because it is actually an old volcano that went dormant some 11,000 years ago and the crater floor collapsed which is what makes the conservation area. We were situated in another luxury camp, with pretty much the same set up to the one in the Serengeti, but this time on the crater rim. It gets incredibly cold at that altitude at night however and so they provide you with hot water bottles which make it incredibly comfortable and warm. 

Abstract photo of a lion inside Ngorongoro.

The next morning when we went for our first adventure into the actual reserve where the animals are, the Land Rovers were slipping and sliding all over the place on the very wet and muddy paths. The Land Rover I was in slipped right off the path into a rocky bank and we got a little stuck, but no need to panic as the guides were excellent and sorted it all out within about 20 mins. 

Baby Zebra born in Ngorongoro about 20 mins before we found it

The sights in the Ngorongoro were incredible, the animals that are in the crater tend not to migrate out because of the steep climbs, and we saw so many amazing things in the two days we got to explore. The only animals you won’t find in the crater are giraffe and impala, this is due to the steep slopes and the fact that there are almost no trees inside the crater. 

After an amazing two days in Ngorongoro, it was time to move on again, this time to a rather posh hotel in the Great Rift Valley. This was situated closer to civilization, but still far enough away for the next adventures to still feel a bit wild. This time, it was not animals we were looking for, but traditional tribes that are allowed to live in the bush still. The first tribe we visited were the Datoga Community, who live in traditional huts with no electricity or any mod-cons.  The experience was slightly overwhelming for me, due to the fact I’m not keen on having people too close to me if I don’t know them, and this tribe had never seen someone with natural ginger hair. They kept touching it and standing really close to me, also speaking a language I didn’t understand so it wasn’t my most enjoyable moment of the trip, but it is also good to experience some of the traditional cultures of the country you visit to see how other people live and survive. The men of this tribe make arrows, bracelets and other accessories out of melted down padlocks, quite an incredible process to watch, however I was quite concerned about one of the men’s feet as he was using them to hold the metal while hitting it quite hard with a hammer! 

A beautiful Datoga woman making jewellery inside her hut.

I was unfortunately not feeling too well on the last full day of the trip and so I missed out on the last tribe that they went to visit, the Hadzabe People. There is a video of what an encounter might be like on Toby Gelston’s YouTube channel ‘PhotorecTV’. 

On the penultimate day of the trip we found out that a huge rainstorm had washed the road away out from where the hotel was. Due to the weather conditions the guides wanted to get us out early; but we missed our opportunity to leave by about 20 minutes and so we were stuck at the hotel for the night. We then ended up having to cross the river by foot to get on Land Rovers they had arranged to meet us on the other side, while the guides waited with our bags for the road to be fixed. 

On our way back to Arusha, we were taken to an amazing shop that sold all sorts of traditional items made in Tanzania, as well as your normal souvenir items like t-shirts, hats, fridge magnets etc. I purchased a very small piece of Tanzanite that cost me $250; which, when the time comes, will be used on my engagement ring. 

We then were taken for a last lunch together as a group before being driven back to Tanzania Kilimanjaro Airport. The lunch was at Arusha Coffee Lodge and I felt incredibly out of place being somewhere so nice in my very un-nice clothes. We then went to a hotel to use a day room for a few hours to freshen up before the long haul back home. The majority of the group were American, so had quite some way further than me to go, with only one other member from the UK. 

The tour was absolutely amazing. It was easily one of my best experiences and I’m so glad that I have managed to get to the Serengeti at least once in my life. I would definitely love to go back one day, perhaps travelling with a bit less luggage, but everything else the same. The touring company taking us round Tanzania was Thompson Safaris, whose guides were so incredible in every way, from their knowledge of the animals, to their skilled driving in difficult situations, and even sorting out cars to transfer us to still have our last day while the other cars were stuck on the wrong side of the river. The only thing I would maybe like to do next time is to go in August to see the Mara river crossing part of the migration and go up to experience the Masaai Mara. 

Every day we had an abundance of healthy and delicious meals, and when we couldn’t get back to camp for lunch, they would pack them for us into cardboard boxes with individual items wrapped in paper due to plastic being banned in Tanzania and Kenya, an absolutely immense effort on their part for trying to help fix the environment. The guides were also great at stopping to pick up litter that we saw chucked on the side of the roads in the Serengeti.

Mckay Photography Academy have award winning photography instructors, with a ratio of 1 instructor to 3 clients per vehicle, you couldn’t find better set ups for wildlife photography courses anywhere else. Dave and Ally Mckay are two of the most passionate photographers I have ever met and are so inspiring with their stories from their trips all around the globe. Toby, and their other instructor Steve, are also incredible. All four of them were so helpful in determining what it was I was doing wrong and knew just what advice I needed to get those images perfect. I can’t recommend this trip highly enough, and I’m sure their other tours around the world are just as incredible and adventurous, and I hope one day to be able to join onto one of their tours again. 

All the Birds of the World – Review

All the Birds of the World is the latest book published by Lynx Edicions. A book that, as the title suggests, aims to illustrate every bird species in the world. Coming in at around a whopping 3.5kg, and with nearly 1,000 pages, this book packs in a lot of detail to keep any aspiring ornithologist happy.  

Upon opening the front cover of the book, you will discover the non-passerine bird families (i.e. the non-perching birds), whilst the passerine bird families can be found printed on the inside of the back cover. Within the front cover is a laminated key to be used with the book to understand a whole range of information being provided to you. The laminated key has information on the taxonomic circle, which is used to show how four of the major world checklists categorise species, especially whether they are their own species or classed as a subspecies by certain lists. The four lists used to determine species are: HBW and BirdLife International Checklist of the Birds of the World. Version 4.; The eBird/Clements Checklist of Birds of the World: v2019.; The Howard and Moore Complete Checklist of the Birds of the World, version 4.1.; and finally, IOC World Bird List (v10.1).

The front of the laminated key

There is a section on the laminated card to describe alternate names that may be used. The other three sections on the front of the laminate card include a distribution map key, explaining what the different colours mean, the IUCN/BirdLife International Red List categories key, and also an explanation of how subspecies and subspecies groups are shown in illustration. 

The back of the laminate card has only one section which is a key to all the abbreviations to all the countries in the world. The distribution maps in the illustrations are too small to fit the whole country name in and so they are all abbreviated to two letters. 

The back of the laminated key

The front section of the book contains the most writing with information about how this project came to be; followed by an introduction with fairly typical bird book information such as how to use the book, what you will find on each page, what makes the checklists different, the four major world checklists, and the acknowledgements and references. All of these sections can come in handy when wanting to thoroughly understand in-depth how to use this book properly and gain the most knowledge from looking at each species. 

The most exciting pages (the start of the illustration accounts of all the birds) starts of page 35 of the book, I won’t spoil which species it starts with. The birds are split into segments of family categories, with an illustration of every individual bird species in that family given its own little box. 

Page example
Page example
Page example

Each species box contains at least one illustration, sometimes more of different variants such as similar looking subspecies or sexual dimorphic differences. The boxes also include the different information factors that are found on the laminate key. The species boxes also contain a QR code for every single species; by using the camera on your mobile phone to scan the code, you are then taken to an individual species account on the eBird website where you can get more information about that bird species. Information provided on the online species account includes the bird’s call (song), range maps and photos taken from recorded sightings. There is also a link to The Cornell Lab of Ornithology where more information is available, however, you need to be a member of Cornell Lab to access this. Merlin Cornell Lab do however have a free app that you can download if you are wanting more information. 

Close up illustration example, showing all the features included in each illustration box.

Alongside the 835 pages of extant species illustrations, there is also a particularly interesting section at the back of the book that I have never witnessed in another bird book previously. An additional Appendix section can be found if you continue to turn the page over after looking at all the extant species to find a section on Extinct species. This section identifies birds that were believed to have lived past 1500AD but are now extinct, or at least have not had sightings for centuries in some cases. 

There is also an Appendix 2 which describes differences in nomenclature. This section doesn’t contain illustrations, but detailed written accounts of these species. 

If you are concerned about misplacing the laminated key card that helps to identify country codes and sorts from species accounts, there’s not too much to worry about as there is a full country codes list towards the end of the book after Appendix 2. 

There are additional, larger maps at the end of the book in Appendix 4 so that you can look at countries in more detail, an excellent addition of important information when trying to locate areas for a bird’s existence. There are 34 maps in this section, the first a bigger world map version, with the rest being close ups of specific areas of the world. 

Just before the index, there is a small section to show some other ornithology related books that Lynx Edicions produces to try and encourage even more learning in the wonderful world of birds. I am certainly tempted to buy more of these when funds are available to continue to grow my wildlife library. 

The back cover of the book.

To sum up the information provided in All the Birds of the World, there are 11,524 species accounts in total, with 20,865 illustrations. There are 11,558 distribution maps, with all 3313 one-country endemic species marked. There is information on IUCN/BirdLife international conservation status and all the other wonderful features that I have previously mentioned. 

This book should certainly be in the possession of any budding or professional ornithologist as you will not find a more concise and completed list with such detailed and beautiful illustrations anywhere else. Lynx Edicions should certainly feel proud of the hard work that has gone into this book as I have never owned such an outstandingly beautiful book before. I pre-ordered my book all the way back in July which allowed me to receive it from the first printed batch. I paid a total of £71 for the book and shipping to the UK from Spain, due to a special pre-order deal. They are now running a sort of pre-order with the same deal for the second print run batch. The deal is in Euros; however, the cost is fairly similar in pounds. The current deal is €65 for the book which doesn’t include shipping, with the usual price of the book being €85. I would strongly suggest jumping on this if you’re planning to get this book as it is definitely one that will come in handy for all sorts of birdy things. 

As a fairly new hobbyist ornithologist, having the whole expanse of bird species is somewhat awe inspiring and there are so many thousands of birds I’ve never heard of from all over the world that I now want to make my mission to find. The most exciting spread of the book for me was the hornbills as they are my utmost favourite group of birds and seeing all the species in one place was immense. 

The packaging presentation was also beautiful when I received it, and almost fully recyclable except for the small plastic wrap around the book to protect it from any water damage whilst it was in transport.

I really do commend Lynx Edicions and all the people that worked on this book and I wish all of them the most success with the sale of All the Birds of the World. They really deserve for this book to do well, and as someone who loves the natural world, I would have really missed out if I didn’t purchase it. 

Adventures in Africa – Story 3

The third adventure to Africa happened in a rushed style compared to the previous two trips. I had only started to book it about 6 weeks before I wanted to be heading out. I had developed a strong passion for wanting to learn wildlife photography, and what could be better than learning a new skill, in a country I love, with so much wildlife! 

For this adventure, I used a volunteering organization called African Impact, who specialise in a number of different wildlife and community projects. This project was again based in the Kruger region, which landed me about 20 minutes down the road from Moholoholo.

I decided a shorter stay was probably best this time around, and so I booked a 6 week stay for this project. The first 4 weeks would be an intensive wildlife photography learning experience, with the last two weeks allowing me to experience the research project part. These projects are run at the same location and so you will move groups once your photography experience is finished. This adventure began on the 21st of May 2015, which therefore meant another birthday spent in the African bush. 

A dwarf mongoose appearing from its burrow, not an animal we really researched, but it was still cute.

When landing in Johannesburg, you will be met by a driver, organised by the project coordinators, who will take you to a nearby hotel. You stay at a hotel for one night and will then be driven the 6 hour route to the project near the Kruger. The route did consist of a stop at Alzu and Dullstroom again, as in my previous adventures, as these are very popular rest stops for anyone traveling in the direction of the Kruger from Johannesburg. Upon arrival at the project, we found out that the project had only moved to the location we stayed at on that day. Luckily everything had been set up by the staff and other volunteers already at the project. 

The typical daily schedule consisted of waking up at 5am, ready to be on the game vehicles at 6am, which meant eating some breakfast and gathering all your camera gear and anything else you wanted with you. The morning game drives lasted anywhere from 3-5 hours, depending on what you found. The time was then your own until lunch which was at 12:30-13:00pm, depending on how quick the lunch was to prepare. The afternoon drive then went out at around 3pm and finished by 7pm, where it was then dinner. The food at this project was some of the best I’ve ever eaten; not only was there the typical western diet which they will normally provide at projects like this (to include as many varieties as possible to suit everyone’s needs), but they also prepared some traditional South African dishes. 

Big cats are typically around more in the cooler darker hours, and here is a perfect reason to get up early and stay out late,

The daily schedule sometimes changed on the photography project when we needed to be in a classroom to learn camera settings, working with different lighting and also learning editing software, the main one being lightroom, with a little bit of photoshop thrown in. Learning the settings took me a little while before I started getting them right, especially as it was all new to me working with a DSLR rather than a point-and-shoot. I was taught how to balance the ISO, Shutter Speed and Aperture (f/stop) to create good images using natural lighting. I’m not sure I really grasped the concept for quite a while, but eventually I did start to understand how it all works, and now I’m fairly confident in saying that I can get a picture of most things that I want to. I was also taught that the image should be good enough out of the camera that you don’t have to rely on the editing software too much. If the image is bad out of camera, there is almost no way of making it good post production either, so shooting the image correctly in the first place is important. Even now, I still stick to that rule, and when editing, I mostly only crop the image to a suitable size for social media and slightly adjust the exposure and contrast settings. 

We did get to go on a day trip to the Kruger National Park during my stay.

Whilst on the photography course, they will work towards you becoming useful to the research team as they need to use a lot of images of the wildlife. They use the images to build ID kits for animals such as elephants, rhinos, lions, leopards, hyenas, and maybe a few other species. Animals have unique markings in the way we all have unique fingerprints. The pictures need to cover an array of different angles of the same individual so that all identification marks can be seen and used. This information is then used for the research projects such as finding out if there are frequent, or new, visitors on the different reserves that the research is carried out on. 

At the time of my visit, the project was working on two reserves, one just down the road from our base or “home” as we all called it, and one based in the Klaserie Private Nature Reserve. When we did research at the Klaserie reserve, we got to stay for 24 hours and camp in tents overnight once a week. This is due to this reserve being a 1.5 to 2 hour drive from our lodge and so to be there early enough in the morning to do research, we had to be there from the afternoon before. The camping was most probably the best part of the whole experience for me, being in the bush and so close to nature really does something good for the soul. The research may be at different reserves now as this is over 5 years ago since I was there, and if they have collected enough data for each of the reserves that they work on, they may move on to others. 

As a part of this experience, African Impact will always try and include some form of community volunteering as they are passionate about improving lives within the local communities. Even though I was predominantly photographing wildlife and doing wildlife research, we also went to a local school once a week. At the school, we were helping to build key-hole gardens. These are raised vegetable gardens to help minimise too much damage to the crops and soil during the rainy season, with the idea behind it of providing the children at the school with healthy, nutritious meals. The children that go to this school live in a township, which are usually poverty stricken and so food and healthcare is hard to come by. With the school providing each child with at least one nutritious meal during the day, this helps the community to fight against malnutrition and health issues in the younger generations. The children were always happy to see the volunteers when we turned up at the school, and we had teamed up with an Australian Indigenous volunteer programme that was helping out full time at the school. 

I had some of my best experiences with the African wildlife on this trip, from spending a few peaceful moments with a rhino and her 2 month old calf on my birthday, to accidently stumbling upon an elephant and her very young calf, perhaps just a week old. There are so many things I could talk about with the wildlife and the guides, but as an overall experience this is probably one of the best volunteering programmes I have come across. The staff and volunteers at the project made me feel like I was part of a huge family; we all looked out and cared for each other and had some of the best times together.

The African Impact office team were also a huge help when I was booking my tour as it had to be done in such a rush. If you don’t want to stay at just one volunteering experience, the team will help make arrangements to transfer you to some of their other projects. They have projects in more than just South Africa, including at least one project in Seychelles and many other locations. I would highly recommend African Impact and their projects and I will hopefully book onto another adventure with them in the future. 

All of these images were taken on this trip, and as you can see, I wasn’t the best to start with, it takes a lot of practice and patients to really understand where you’re going wrong, but if you work hard enough, you will get there eventually.

The DSLR that I used on this trip was a Canon 1200D with basic kit lenses, this was the cheapest set up I could get as I didn’t want to buy an expensive camera until I really knew what I was doing. Since then, I progressed to a Canon 760D, the next step up, and now I use the Canon 7D Mark II with a pro lens.

Adventures in Africa – Story 2

The second adventure to Africa took place only a few months after the first, however this time, I had organised this trip by myself through a company called African Conservation Experience (ACE). ACE have a range of different volunteering projects you can take part in, from working alongside wildlife vets, volunteering at wildlife rehabilitation centres, research-based volunteering, and even having opportunities to work alongside a game capture team. I decided that I wanted to go to Africa for as long as possible, which is 3 months without needing to obtain any special visa. Having finished my diploma in Animal Management, I decided that volunteering at a wildlife rehabilitation centre would be a good fit, and so I chose to spend my three months at Moholoholo Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre, South Africa. ACE have an option where you are able to select different projects and they will help arrange how you get to each one. 

This adventure started on the 1st of September 2014, which started out with a fairly typical Molly fashioned event where it was discovered the suitcase wasn’t going to shut just over an hour before I had to leave. This led to a flustered scurry of action with mum racing me into my local town to find a gigantic suitcase, repack everything, gobble some lunch down and head off to Heathrow airport. 

A few weeks before the trip, I had joined the ACE Facebook group to find out if there were any others travelling at the same time, and maybe even going to the same project. It turned out that there were two other girls, which filled me with a tiny amount of confidence, as this was the furthest I had ever gone without some form of adult supervision. 

We made it to Heathrow with about 4 hours to spare (typical of my mum to always make me hours early). I met up with the two girls and after a bit of food and meeting their parents at Costa, we went through security and eventually onto our flight. The flight was going fairly well until about four hours from the end, I hadn’t gotten up at all in the past 7 hours, and I wasn’t wearing flight socks. Due to not much blood being in the area it was most needed (my brain), I ended up passing out and caused a very minor medical emergency on board. I recovered fairly quickly though and made it to Johannesburg in a good enough condition that a hospital visit wasn’t required. 

When we reached Johannesburg, we were met by Martin (I think that was his name), and he was there to make sure we got some food and then to sort us into various groups to send us off into a few different combis (mini-buses) to be driven to different projects. There were volunteers from all over the world arriving into the group at various times throughout the morning. I think we ended up leaving the airport at maybe 10:00 or 11:00am. I was fairly excited to be going to Moholoholo again, having done the drive in the opposite direction four months prior, I couldn’t wait to see all the amazing scenery again. A lot of people imagine Africa as having quite a flat landscape but, I can in fact confirm, that is not the case. When we arrived at Moholoholo, we were greeted by the volunteer co-ordinator who showed us to our rooms and helped us take our bags there. We arrived just in time to jump in and help with the afternoon rounds. 

Gorgeous Lumi, my Hyena friend. As part of my rounds, I had to check that the hyenas had enough water and fill it up every morning.

The daily schedule at Moholoholo started at 7:00am if you were only on morning rounds that day, which continued to 8:30-9:00am when you then walked down to breakfast. Breakfast and dinner were served at Moholoholo Forest Camp, which is on the same land as the rehab centre. After breakfast, which finished at around 10:00am, you walked back up to the rehab centre and got ready to start “big jobs”. Big jobs involved the cleaning of all the larger animal cages as a staff member needed to be present to ensure safe practices were taking place. The animals on the morning/afternoon rounds were the smaller, less dangerous animals, and all the birds. The big jobs finished at lunch time which was about 12:30 – 1:00pm, depending on how quick the jobs were, which depended on how many volunteers there were. The afternoon was then your time to do what you wished until 4:00pm when afternoon rounds started. Afternoon rounds finished at 6:30-7:00pm where you then needed to quickly get ready to go to dinner. At dinner time you get driven to the Forest Camp because it’s pitch black and there are wild animals roaming on the land around the centre. After dinner, most of the volunteers went to bed, ready to get up early the next day. 

The schedule sometimes changed depending on which group you were in. The volunteers are split between four groups which you stay in for your whole stay. Each of these groups are responsible for specific animals and enclosures for morning/afternoon rounds. The groups also have extra tasks every four days, one of them being helping out in Brian’s Aviary, which means being there at 6:00am, and the other being to collect lunch as this is eaten in the volunteer common room. These tasks tended not to be on the same day, however, if there are less volunteers, sometimes groups will team up to help each other out. 

The hippos of Moholoholo.

The routine was pretty much the same on a daily basis, but there are extra activities that the centre run themselves, and also external activities that you can book onto. The main activity that the centre runs is an afternoon game drive to see the wild animals on the reserve. This could include impala, nyala, zebra, giraffe, hippos and maybe some others if you’re very lucky. They also will sometimes arrange a bush walk with one of the guides. The best activity that they will arrange is to take you to a private game reserve that belongs to Moholoholo called Nhoveni. No tourists are allowed on Nhoveni and some of the sightings I had there were so special. Other activities they can book for you are day trips to the Kruger National Park where an external company comes to pick you up and drive you around the park all day, or another option is to go horse riding. There may be other activities, but those are the two I went on, and so they’re the only options I remember. 

We ended up watching the capture of Eland at Moholoholo Mountain View, the property just down the road.

There will sometimes be days where the schedule is completely messed up, normally from having to go and collect an unwanted wild animal from a farm or rescuing animals that have been potentially poisoned. Poisoning, poaching, and human-wildlife conflict are the biggest issues with wildlife in Africa and it can lead to seeing some pretty horrendous things, so just be prepared for the worst in some situations. It can also lead to capturing young animals that aren’t doing so well, as they may need the added care of being hand reared. 

Feeding baby Gerald. (For reference, I am 5’2″)

There are usually always babies needing care at Moholoholo, from a range of antelope species, to rhinos, elephants, hippos, giraffe, and even some predator species. While I was there, the three main babies included a white rhino, a giraffe, and a sable antelope. There are also other animals that need care, such as a blind wood owl, Woody, who I fed every day with him sat on my knee as that was his favourite place. There are so many things that you will experience at Moholoholo, that the money you spend is absolutely worth it. 

Saturn the cheetah, who always purred whenever I was trying to phone home.
At some point during your stay, you will get to join a tour of the rehab centre that they provide for day guests. A Cape vulture is incredibly heavy for my tiny little arms, I believe they’re about 11kg.
Health-checking Lika mum’s babies.

After having spent 3 months there, I now wish I had considered going onto some different projects as I think 2 weeks to a month would have been enough, however because of the length of my stay, I was able to experience so many more things than others that had shorter stays. I have never regretted spending so much time in such a beautiful area though. 

Adventures in Africa – Story 1

My first adventure to Africa, now six years ago, was organised by Sparsholt College Hampshire, which is where I attended my A levels to achieve my Level 3 Extended Diploma in Animal Management. Sparsholt organised the trip with the touring company African Insight, where I had the privilege of meeting one of the most knowledgeable and passionate guides in the whole of South Africa, Marc Holcroft (at least he was compared to all the guides I’ve ever met, in my opinion). I will forever be grateful to have had the chance to meet Marc, who was the original spark in my passion for travelling to South Africa. 

Elephants in Kruger. Taken in June 2019 – I hadn’t started photography on this tour so I don’t have any photos from then.

African Insight, the company that set up the tour, specialises in academic tours, internships and volunteering, and they arranged some pretty amazing locations for us to visit. Due to the tour being organised through the college, I believe the total cost was around £1,500 which included our flights. This trip took place in May 2014, and I was even lucky enough to celebrate my 18th birthday on this tour. 

The first place we visited was Somkhanda Game Reserve near Durban. We took the overnight flight from London Heathrow to Johannesburg, and then got the connecting flight from Johannesburg to Durban. I don’t remember what airline it was, although I have a feeling it was South African Airways. We then were piled into what the South Africans call “combis” or what we know to be mini-buses, and our bags were packed into trailers. I’m not too sure how long the drive was, but it could have been 4-6 hours maybe. When we got to Somkhanda, we found out we were going to be camping in tents. Quite a fun activity, especially after being told wild rhinos roam around the camp at night (very comforting for someone who always needs the loo at ungodly hours). The most discouraging thing about the bathroom arrangements is that there were no solid doors, just a chain to put across that read “no entry”. It was wintertime; however, I don’t remember being too cold at any point on this particular trip. 

After a 3 day stay at Somkhanda where we experienced bush walks and game drives, we headed on to Swaziland (or Eswatini as it’s now known). In Swaziland, we stayed at a place known as Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary. I believe we did a couple of bush walks led by Marc, as there were no predators on this reserve, except a few crocodiles in the dam, who seemed content guarding a tree for the slim chance a weaver bird might fall from one of the many nests into their jaws. I also remember we watched an old film about a Land Rover named Jezebel (if I’m not mistaken), which was pivotal in the early days of conservation in Swaziland.  We also learned about their work in helping to recover roan antelope from near extinction. 

We left Swaziland and headed for the Kruger region, a place that has become somewhat of a second home to me over the years, and this trip was my first time ever seeing this beautiful region. Our first stop in the Kruger area was, in fact, the Kruger National Park. We stayed in the bungalows in Skukuza camp, however, having done a self-drive and booked the accommodation myself, I now know we were in the cheapest accommodation before camping as we had to use communal bathrooms. The Kruger always performs, and it certainly did for a bunch of excited 18 year olds. I believe we found leopards, lions, lots and lots of elephants (as per usual), and potentially even rhinos. We also found a whole host of other species including buffalo, giraffe, hyena, and a bunch more that I can’t remember. The three days at Kruger were some of the best I’ve ever experienced, you never know what you’re going to find with wildlife, but we certainly saw a lot in 3 days. There were many, many species of bird too, which Marc always knew whenever we asked him. 

Cheetah from Kruger June 2019

Kruger Park then came to an end and we were off to our final destination for the last 3 days of our trip. Our last 3 days were spent in a location that has much relevance to my next adventure to Africa, which you’ll discover more about next week. We stayed at Moholoholo Mountain View, an absolutely spectacular location as it’s right in front of the Drakensburg Mountains. We had some game drives and bush walks at Mountain View, but we also had a number of day trips to locations around this base. One of our visits took us just down the road to Moholoholo Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre, the main feature of the next blog. At the rehab centre, we got to go on a tour to learn about the animals they keep and rescue. There is a whole variety, from cheetahs, lions, leopards, servals and caracals to hyenas and wild dogs. They have many other mammal species and also specialise in the rescue of birds, as birds in the area are affected quite largely by poaching and telephone wires. 

Some of the other day trips took us to locations such as Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre, who specialise in breeding programmes of Cheetah, especially King Cheetah. I’m not quite sure if they look after other animals, although I have a feeling they might. We also went to Kinyonga Reptile Centre (formerly Khamai Reptile Centre), where we watched a dangerous snake handling demonstration. We were allowed to get involved in learning how to handle snakes with a snake hook, however, having learned how weak my forearms are from a previous experience at college, I decided not to take part in this particular activity. They also brought out a baboon spider, explaining the issues with them and the fact that they are at least Endangered, maybe Critically Endangered.

Hyena cubby from Kruger June 2019

After a lot of fun and learning, it finally came time to say goodbye to African sunsets, beautiful African animals, our guides, and my friends, as this trip took place right at the end of my final year at college. We drove in the combis all the way back to Johannesburg airport with a few stops at popular locations on route. I had my first experience of Harrie’s pancakes in Dullstroom on this trip, as well as seeing the rhinos at the Alzu pit stop (again, I think that’s what it’s called). We arrived at the airport and gathered our belongings ready to catch the 10.5 hour flight back to Heathrow.

This trip was such a learning experience, not only from everything the guides taught us, but just from being so far from home without my parents for the first time. Although I can’t remember too many specifics from this trip as there was a lot going on, I can remember the locations vividly and feeling so overwhelmed with emotion at times. Africa is a powerful place, it draws you in and you feel like you never want to leave, which I can’t help feeling is us being called back to our origins, as human life began on the continent of Africa. This trip wouldn’t have been the same without Marc as our guide, who sadly passed away earlier this year after being diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain tumour. I am truly blessed to have known him at one time in my life. 

Link to the story of Jezebel and pioneering conservationist Tim Reilly https://wildernesselements.com/2016/01/22/jezebel/

African Lion

Panthera leo

Mama lion in Ngorongoro crater. Tanzania 2018.

Size: Male – Total length is between 2.5-3.3m, shoulder height is 1.2m. They generally weigh between 150-225kg. Female – Total length 2.3 – 2.7m, shoulder height is 1m. They generally weigh between 110-152kg

Male Lion on the Mashatu reserve. Botswana 2019

Identification: Lions are the largest of the African cats. There is sexual dimorphism between adult males and females, as males have a mane, whereas females do not. They have reddish-brown to pale tawny fur, with lighter underparts (with exceptions such as the white (leucistic) lions of the Timbavati). The cubs will also have pale spots on their sides which generally disappear by adulthood. The males’ mane extends from the sides of the face, down the neck and onto the shoulders and chest. The colour of the mane ranges from a pale tawny to black. The darker the mane, generally the higher in the hierarchy the lion is. 

Diet: Meat (Obligate Carnivore) – generally small to medium sized antelopes, but in large prides they will take down large animals such as buffalo or young elephants. Some lions have even worked out how to hunt giraffe. 

Habitat: A very broad range of habitats from desert edges to open savannah and woodland. They are absent however from equatorial forest. 

Location: South Africa, Mozambique, Tanzania, Kenya, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia. They generally occur south of the Sahara , but are excluded from the equatorial forest areas. 

Breeding: No fixed breeding season, with a general litter size of 1-4, but can be as big as 6 occasionally. The gestation is 110 days, and the cubs weigh about 1.5kg at birth. The lioness will leave the pride to give birth to the cubs and will return once the cubs are bigger and stronger, which is usually when the cubs are 1-2 months old. Not only will the mother suckle the cubs, but any other female that is lactating with her own cubs will also suckle another’s cubs. The cubs may remain with their mothers for up to 2 years or longer. The males will generally be kicked out when they are old enough to prevent inbreeding. If a new male takes over the pride, any young cubs will be killed so that the adult females go into oestrus and he can have his own cubs. Mating is a rather arduous task, this is due to the frequency of the matings. Mating will occur every 20 minutes or so for 3-4 days. 

.

Lifespan: 13-15 years in the wild. An average of 13 years in captivity, with the longest living to have made it to 30 years old. 

Behaviour: Quite a large proportion of lion behaviour includes sleeping, as they sleep for 20-21 hours a day. Lion hunting behaviour is fairly interesting in that they need a lot of patience and skill (and also a good amount of luck sometimes) to catch their rather fast food. Lions are able to run at speeds of 48-59km per hour, but they are only able to maintain this speed for about 100m or so. Therefore, they rely on stalking behaviour to get as close to their prey as possible before making an attack. They use dense cover such as bushes or long grass, and will do a walk with their bellies pretty much on the ground. Once close enough, they will run at the prey, especially if the prey is not being attentive, but will stop and hunker down in the grass if the prey looks in their direction. The majority of hunts are group activities, and it is usually the females that will do the hunting, however, the male will generally get to eat first. There was a study done that looked at different lion hunting techniques, such as a single lion hunting or in a group, they found that only 17-19% of hunts were successful for solitary lions, compared with 30% of hunts for groups of 2 or more lions. Their success rate still being considerably low compared to other predators such as wild dogs, another group hunting animal. 

Two female lions playing with each other. Ngorongoro crate. Tanzania 2018.

Lions have a number of ways they communicate with each other, which include Olfactory, Visual and Tactile communication. Olfactory communication uses scent marking such as urine-spraying which will cause the flehmen response when another lion comes into contact with it so that they are able to extract the “message” from it. Visual communication comes in the form of body posture, facial expressions and tail position. For example, if the ears are flat back against the head and teeth are bared, I can assure you that lion is not happy to see you. Tactile communication is in the form of touch, such as social grooming, rubbing faces together, lying next to each other. If you have pet cats at home, they love tactile communication such as rubbing their faces on you, so it must just be a cat thing, or it’s to know they have ownership of you. 

Social Behaviour: The only sociable species of cat. They are well known for their “group” or pride living social structures, it is what stands out most about them. Pride sizes can vary from 3-30 individuals. The pride size is very dependent on food availability. In Botswana, for example, pride sizes are generally never above 6 individuals, whereas in Kruger National Park, South Africa, pride sizes are generally about 12 individuals. A pride will usually have a structure of 1-4 adult males, several related females (sisters or cousins generally), only one of the females is dominant, and there will also be several sub-adults and cubs. 

IUCN Red List Status: Vulnerable

Population Trend: Decreasing

Mature individuals: 23,000-39,000 

Threats: Threats are made up of mostly human-based activities, such as, housing and urban areas, agriculture – which includes livestock farming and crop farming, they are also hunted and trapped – either for the black market as pets or as bones for Chinese medicine. Lions will often be killed if they are near rural villages as they may pose as a threat to livestock or human life. Logging and wood harvesting and also war, civil unrest and military exercises are having an impact in some locations. There is also the highly controversial issue of canned hunting and whether that is beneficial to conservation or not. 

Conservation: There are a number of different conservation action plans in place, depending on the biggest threat in the area they are protecting. Different locations have different problems, however the general conservation plans and actions include In-place land/water protection where it’s needed. In-place species management which also includes ex-situ conservation such as breeding programmes in zoos. There is also In-place education which includes education for locals and also international groups. 

Fiesty cubby. Ngorongoro crater, Tanzania 2018.

Interesting facts: The Afrikaans word for Lion is Leeu, and the Swahili word is Simba.